A punter at Nebraska and a high school hockey star in North Dakota, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Erstad barreled over catcher Johnny Estrada to score on Garret Anderson's go-ahead double Monday night in Atlanta, leading the Los Angeles Angels to a 4-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves in the first meeting between the teams.
Erstad planted his left shoulder into Estrada's facemask in a violent home-plate collision in the eighth inning, giving Los Angeles the lead and sending Estrada to the hospital.
"There is no intent to injure at all there," Erstad said. "I just hope he's OK."
Atlanta's John Smoltz retired his first 14 batters and carried a 2-1 lead into the eighth, but the Angels put runners at the corners with one out.
Anderson's drive to right drove in Chone Figgins from third and Erstad, who scored from first base by knocking the ball from Estrada's grasp.
Estrada caught second baseman Marcus Giles' relay throw at the plate, but Erstad, who helped Nebraska win the 1994 national championship, delivered a shoulder-first blow, knocking the ball loose while also knocking off Estrada's helmet.
While a groggy Estrada reached for the ball, Erstad reached back to tag the plate for a 3-2 Angels lead.
Estrada clutched his head before receiving attention from Braves trainer Jeff Porter. He and assistant trainer Jim Lovell helped Estrada off the field.
Estrada was conscious but was taken to Piedmont Hospital to be examined for a possible concussion and neck injury.
Los Angeles manager Mike Scioscia defended the play, saying, "It's baseball."
"Erstad had to make a decision to either slide or to try to get through the block," Scioscia said. "It's a clean play. Our thoughts are with Johnny. We hope he's all right."
Some Braves players objected to Erstad hitting Estrada's head instead of his body, or possibly sliding for the plate.
"It depends on what you guys call clean," first baseman Julio Franco said. "I played against Erstad, and his mentality is not my mentality. He plays the game like a football player.
"The only thing I see is, I don't mind the hit, I mind the location of the hit. He could have hit lower, that's fine with me. Hitting a guy like that, in his face, could cause major damage to his health."
As a groggy Estrada was attended to by Braves trainers, some Braves players yelled and pointed across the field at Erstad.
"You can analyze it all day long," Erstad said. "There are different ways to do it. I made a decision. I hope he's OK."
With Smoltz (4-5) still in the game after Anderson's double, Dallas McPherson followed with a single to drive in Anderson, pushing the lead to 4-2.
Brendan Donnelly (3-1) earned the win in relief of starter John Lackey.
Francisco Rodriguez got three outs for his 11th save in 12 chances, striking out Rafael Furcal with two on to end it.
Smoltz allowed four runs and 13 hits in 8 1-3 innings, striking out five.
The Braves, who placed third baseman Chipper Jones on the 15-day disabled list Monday with a sore foot, can't afford to lose Estrada, the team's cleanup hitter. Jones will have more tests Tuesday to determine the severity of his injury, which has plagued him since late April.
Jones aggravated the injury Sunday in Pittsburgh, and the team also placed starting pitcher Mike Hampton on the disabled list last week.
The increasingly young Atlanta roster now includes eight rookies, including three who started in the first meeting between the Braves and Angels: outfielders Ryan Langerhans and Kelly Johnson, and third baseman Wilson Betemit, who started for Jones.
Another young Braves starter, 25-year-old first baseman Adam LaRoche, hit a two-run homer off Lackey in the fourth for a 2-0 lead.
Lackey pitched six innings, giving up seven hits and two runs.
A balk helped set up the Angels' first run in the sixth. With two outs, Steve Finley doubled and advanced to third when second-base umpire Brian Runge called the balk on Smoltz, who argued the call.
Anderson drove in Finley with a single off the glove of a diving Furcal behind second base.
BREWERS 4, YANKEES 3: At Milwaukee, Randy Johnson and the New York Yankees were no better in Milwaukee. Geoff Jenkins ran down Derek Jeter's drive in the right-field corner for the final out, preserving the Brewers' victory and ruining New York's first trip to Milwaukee since 1997. With pressure mounting from impatient owner George Steinbrenner, the Yankees fell to 1-6 on their 12-game road trip and dipped below .500 at 28-29. Johnson (5-5) allowed four runs and seven hits in six innings. He walked three and struck out eight.
DODGERS 5, TIGERS 3: At Los Angeles, Jeff Kent finally made an out after he had seven straight hits, then bounced back to hit a three-run homer and drive in four runs. Kent went 4-for-4 Sunday against Milwaukee and had hits in his final three at-bats Saturday, but the Tigers' Jeremy Bonderman (6-4) struck him out his first time up. Kent drove in Los Angeles' second run with an infield single in the fourth inning, and brought the Dodgers from behind with his homer off Bonderman in the sixth.
ORIOLES 4, PIRATES 3: At Pittsburgh, Rafael Palmeiro's tiebreaking sacrifice fly in the eighth helped Baltimore come back after wasting a three-run lead, and Miguel Tejada and B.J. Surhoff homered in a victory over Pittsburgh. After the Pirates tied it at 3 on Matt Lawton's homer in the seventh, the Orioles rallied in the eighth.
BLUE JAYS 4, CUBS 1: At Chicago, Gustavo Chacin pitched seven shutout innings, Reed Johnson hit a three-run homer and Toronto won in its first trip to Wrigley Field. Chacin (6-4) won a matchup of rookie left-handers, outpitching John Koronka (1-1). Chacin allowed five hits, struck out six and was backed by two double plays. The Blue Jays had dropped seven of 10.
WHITE SOX 9, ROCKIES 3: At Denver, Freddy Garcia retired 22 straight Colorado batters after a rough start. In the first inning, Garcia (6-3) gave up a single, then hit Todd Helton with a pitch to bring up Brad Hawpe with two outs. Hawpe sent a 3-1 pitch over the center-field fence to put the Rockies up 3-2. But Garcia didn't allow another baserunner after that. He walked none and had a season-high 10 strikeouts in eight innings.
DIAMONDBACKS 10, PHILLIES 8: At Philadelphia, Shawn Green put an emphatic end to Philadelphia's six-game winning streak, driving in four runs for Arizona. The Phillies scored four runs off Brian Bruney in the ninth, and had runners on the corners with two outs. Javier Lopez came on to strike out pinch-hitter Todd Pratt and record his second save of the season.
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